It may shock you to know that, in this day and age, baby seal hunting is still a thriving trade. And, thanks to climate change, we may continue to see the population of seals dip in a double whammy of death.
That’s because the seals off Canada's coast depend on ice formations for ‘whelping’, the seal birthing process. The fragile ice is breaking up due to global warming, melting before the pups have matured enough to fend for themselves, leaving them vulnerable and out in the open sea, quite literally. The seals continue to use the same birthing place year after year, around the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland, where the ice floats are most affected.
Even worse is the fact that seal hunters are taking advantage of this imbalance in the ecosystem to hunt seals to extinction. Wounded and standard seals are being shot at in open water or are left dying in an attempt to surface. Since the ice is too thin, many of these grisly hunters use mental hooks on wooden poles to ‘test’ whether the pups that are shot at are dead or not. This test leads to many seals being impaled whilst still alive, where they’re dragged onto ships and beaten to death.
98% of the seals killed in this way are less than three months old. The loss of their natural birthing place is bad enough, but the total lack of enforced restrictions in the hunting industry means that these unusually cruel practices, dating back over fifty years, have never been closely scrutinised. In fact, an independent report in 2001 found that seal hunters completely ignored the basic animal welfare standards. In 42% of the cases studied, there were insufficient head injuries to guarantee unconsciousness when the seals were skinned.
This means that the seals were alive during the skinning process.
Hundreds of thousands of seals are killed yearly in commercial hunts, and that’s just the recorded number of seals brought in by fisheries. Many more seals are shot at and die below the surface of Canada’s waters. The quota limit on seal killings is also routinely exceeded, with full knowledge by the Canadian government.
The market for seals is based primarily on their fur, used in the fashion industry. Their oil is also sought after, and, in the case of male seals, their penises are often sold as an aphrodisiac. The meat itself is hardly touched and is mostly left to rot in the sea, meaning that most of the animal is wasted, feeding no one in the process.
No clear reason.
The whole sealing venture counts for less than 1% of the total Newfoundland economy, where much of the hunting happens. There is no dependence on seals for the economy. Thousands die each season for little return. But still, the Canadian government has, in the last thirty years, heavily subsidised the sealing industry to develop seal products.
In 2021, approximately 26,000 seals were reported killed, with an average CAD$27 made per seal skin. The market has dropped incredibly since the European trade ban, and yet it continues to go unchecked and, frankly, encouraged by the Canadian government.
There is no need for this to occur. Seals are not killing off the cod industry, as some fishers claim — in their reduced numbers, they pose no threat. Seals eat a balanced diet, including many of the predators of cod, such as squid. The threat comes from an unbalanced ecosystem which has been disrupted by climate change to the point where habitats are completely destroyed. We’re essentially culling a part of the natural food chain, a key element in the ocean’s ecosystem, some 28-30 million years old. That’s how long modern seals have been around.
Right now, Canada is spending more per year funding seal enforcement than the industry is returning. Norway is also to blame for this debacle, purchasing around 80% of the seal skins sold by Canadian fisheries.
Seals are no predators and have no impact on fisheries, but they are a positive part of the ecosystem, helping check natural fish predators. They’re in no danger of overbreeding, thanks to global warming. They don’t feed anyone or provide any real financial support to the nation, running at a deficit in order to continue. They benefit only a few hundred small commercial fisheries, but in actual fact, they cost much more to police than they return to the economy, which is a detriment to the Canadian people. The rest of the European Union is opposed to these hunting methods and is for launching a full investigation into these hunting practices. And the price of seal fur is dropping rapidly on the open market.
There is absolutely no justification for these actions. The killing of baby seals is a false promise of an industry that hasn’t paid off. Seal hunting has been actioned in blatant disregard of animal welfare. The seal market collapsed internationally in 2009, as it should have, but the practices of seal hunting have continued. China doesn’t buy any seal meat either, meaning millions have been wasted now by the Canadian government to justify seal hunting practices.
- “2022 Canadian commercial seal hunt resumes” on IFAW. Date Published: 5th April, 2022. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3K8JKKt.
- “About the Canadian seal hunt” on The Humane Society. Date Accessed: 26th March, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3JPB3mO.
- “Tell the Canadian government to protect baby seals!” on The Humane Society International. Date Accessed: 26th March, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3ZlWIsu.
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.